What is Hirschsprung's disease?
Hirschsprung* disease (HD) is a disease of the large intestine that causes severe
constipation or intestinal obstruction. Constipation means stool moves through the intestines slower than usual. Bowel movements occur less often than normal and stools are difficult to pass. Some children with
Hirschsprung disease can't pass stool at all, which can result in the complete blockage of the intestines, a condition called intestinal obstruction. People with
Hirschsprung disease are born with it and are usually diagnosed when they are infants. Less severe cases are sometimes diagnosed when a child is older. An
Hirschsprung disease diagnosis in an adult is rare.
What are the large intestine, colon, rectum, and anus?
The large intestine, which includes the colon and rectum, is the last part of the digestive tract. The large intestine's main job is to absorb water and hold stool. The rectum connects the colon to the anus. Stool passes out of the body through the anus. At birth, the large intestine is about 2 feet long. An adult's large intestine is about 5 feet long.
Why does Hirschsprung's disease cause constipation?
People with Hirschsprung disease have constipation because they lack nerve cells in a part or all of the large intestine. The nerve cells signal muscles in the large intestine to push stool toward the anus. Without a signal to push stool along, stool will remain in the large intestine.
- In a healthy large intestine the nerve cells are found throughout the large intestine.
- Short-segment Hirschsprung disease. Nerve cells are missing from the last segment of the large intestine.
- Long-segment Hirschsprung disease. Nerve cells are missing from most or all of the large intestine and sometimes the last part of the small intestine.
How severe Hirschsprung disease is depends on how much of the large intestine is affected. Short-segment
Hirschsprung disease means only the last part of the large intestine lacks nerve cells. Long-segment
Hirschsprung disease means most or all of the large intestine, and sometimes the last part of the small intestine, lacks nerve cells.
In a person with Hirschsprung disease, stool moves through the large intestine until it reaches the part lacking nerve cells. At that point, the stool moves slowly or stops, causing an intestinal obstruction.
What causes Hirschsprung's disease?
Before birth, a child's nerve cells normally grow along the intestines in the direction of the anus. With
Hirschsprung disease, the nerve cells stop growing too soon. Why the nerve cells stop growing is unclear. Some
Hirschsprung disease is inherited, meaning it is passed from parent to child through
genes. Hirschsprung disease is not caused by anything a mother did while pregnant.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/10/2012
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